Devil in a Can (Prince of Darkness, 1987)

prince_of_darkness_posterJohn was pretty prolific in the 80’s and most of them are quite memorable.  Prince of Darkness is a religious themed horror film that is played straight.  Carpenter brings back Victor Wong and Dennis Dun from Big Trouble in Little China.  He also brings Donald Pleasence back.

Prince of Darkness begins with a dying priest passing a secret on to Pleasence’s character (simply called “Priest”).  The secret could rock the church.  With the help of a local Professor and his students, a study is taking place in an abandoned church.  In the Church basement is a giant glass container with a swirling green liquid.  It is revealed that this is the container of the son of Satan…it is prophesied that he will release his father.

As the film progresses, there are stranger and stranger events.  The local homeless community, led by Alice Cooper (who also provides the theme song), are amassing around the church.  People start to disappear, and then show up possessed and passing on the virus.   The name of the game is both survival and stopping the father of evil from being unleashed on the world.

The film is set around an intriguing story.  It is not a serious exploration of religion.  The theology is pretty wonky.  But the film is not trying to establish a truth kept hidden by the church.  Carpenter is not pulling a Dan Brown.  He is just working to tell a scary story.

Is Prince of Darkness John’s scariest film?  No.  For one thing…(Son of) Satan in a Can is a pretty goofy concept.  But the film does have a nice, creepy atmosphere at play.  One of the strong suits of pretty much any Carpenter film is casting.  He had people he seems to have liked working with and would bring them back.  His films are full of great character actors.

The visual effects are very good.  They do a lot of simple, yet effective, practical visuals here.  The score (by Carpenter) is eerie.  In spite of a goofy concept, the film works pretty well, and is part of Carpenter’s more memorable films.

I Heart New York (Escape From New York, 1981)

Escape-From-New-York-Poster1981’s Escape from New York was a large change from the Fog and Halloween.   There were no supernatural elements and it was not a slasher.  Instead, it was a straight up action film set in the distant future of 1997.  Reagan married Thatcher and they had a kid who became President.  Or something.  Anyways, the president gets stuck in the worlds largest maximum penitentiary.  Also known as New York.

Snake Plissken is coerced into slipping into Manhattan and saving the president.  A pardon is promised.  Of course, nothing turns out to be easy.  Snake ends up with a small band of folks who help him save the President as well as a cassette tape with top secret intel.

This marked the second of several films John made with Kurt Russell.  At the time, Russell was known for a string of Disney films.  The character of Snake Plissken was rugged.  He had an eye-patch, wore a trench-coat…he was a badass anti-hero.  In the end, Plissken is basically an opportunist and an anarchist.  He is not saving the president because he cares.

Carpenter gets action, and has Plissken face several jams, cunningly escaping each one.  His accidental team include a cabbie (named Cabbie, played with dopey charm by Ernest Borgnine), former partner Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau).  Their biggest impediment is the Duke (Isaak Hayes) who rules Manhattan.

I would say the weirdest thing is that some of the technology seems like it lacked creativity.  Seriously, cassette Tapes???  On the other hand, the create computer graphics with models that create an impressive effect.

For a lower budget action film, Carpenter keeps the story moving as Snake runs a gauntlet of trouble.  It is an exciting and entertaining film.  This is one of Carpenter’s great films, and in the early eighties, he was on a real role.

Oh. My. Gawd. (Oh God, 1977)

Oh-God-movie-posterThe last hurrah of films from the hard working comic George Burns, I had not seen the Oh God films since the first film was shown to me in Catholic school.

The first film introduces us to hardworking grocery store manager Jerry (John Denver) and his wife Bobbie (Teri Garr).  One day, Jerry gets a phone call to have a meeting.  Upon arriving at the address, he take the elevator that leads to a simple white office with a chair and a speaker.  The voice from the speaker claims to be God and He wants Jerry to be his messenger.

Jerry, certain he is being pranked, tries to find the voice.  After leaving, he discovers that the floor he was on does not exist.  Troubled, but still thinking it might be a joke who heads on out.  Then God starts speaking to him through the radio.  When Jerry tells Bobbie, she tries to convince herself he is not crazy-it’s not like he is seeing things.

And then God appears in Jerry’s bathroom and car.  So, Jerry asks for proof.  Prove he’s God.  Make it rain, Jerry says.  And so God makes it rain-inside the car.  “Why ruin other peoples’ day?” God reasons.  And so Jerry takes on the task of spreading God’s message.

It is a pretty simply Golden Rule style message about treating each other with love and respect.  People think Jerry is crazy, he becomes a public joke, God comes through in the end to provide his defense against a cadre of ministers and psychologists when Jerry is accused by a televangelist of slander.

I like these films.  There is a neat simplicity to the portrayal of God.  Burns plays him as kind, gentle, wise, mysterious, funny and playful and loving.  He is not a God of showy pomp and circumstance, he wears a baseball cap and a windbreaker…and he comes off as playing it by ear.  At one point, Jerry asks why God chose him, especially stumped because h was not a religious man.

God simply says, “why not you?”  Jerry is taken aback by this seemingly careless attitude God has… God asks if Jerry thought maybe he was chosen because he was better than others.  Sheepishly Jerry admits the thought has crossed his mind.  God points out the obvious… he is better than some, worse than others.

Jerry works specifically because he is kind of the hapless everyman who takes the message out to the powerful.   Certainly, there are things that would trouble believers…throughout the series God comments on mistakes he made, such as creating “shame” (don’t know why I ever thought it was needed, God says).  And some would be bothered that the message is generic, rather than specifically Christian.  God makes no mention of needing Jesus, which I suspect would be problematic to certain viewers.

But I find the film and Burn’s approach both endearing and kind of inspiring. God chooses Jerry, though admits he could have chosen anyone.  Jerry isn’t special… and that is kind of the point.  And the most powerful being in the universe takes on the appearance of a frail little man with bad fashion sense.

It also brings up something I have always found to be a bit odd.  If someone walks around and claims to be speaking to God-having honest to goodness actual conversations with God appearing visually and audibly… even Christians think that guy is flirting with insanity at best.  It’s one thing to “feel led” or to think God spoke to you through a song… but say you see God in a physical form and have conversations with him?  That is nutty!

Overall, I found the film to be a fun viewing, even after thirty years.  It’s a gentle, amusing film that can, at times, be challenging.

The Ultimate Halloween

There have been a lot of box sets of film franchises. Often, the series is owned by one studio. This gets tougher for many horror franchises. Child’s Play is owned by MGM, the other films are owned by Universal. Paramount owned the first eight films in the Friday the 13th series, New Line had the later films. Halloween was owned by multiple studios, with the first five films settling in under Anchor Bay and the sixth film on belonging to Dimension Films.

Earlier in 2014, Shout Factory’s horror line Scream Factory announced a pretty big deal. They got Dimension, Universal and Anchor Bay to agree to allow a box set with every single Halloween film. All ten films. And you get the television versions of Halloween and Halloween 2. I watch the television version of Halloween every year. But the real big shocker? The never before released in America Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6: the Curse of Michael Myers. It has been long rumored to be vastly superior to the (admittedly abysmal) theatrical version of the film.  I addressed that earlier this week.  They also include the unrated versions of both Rob Zombie films.

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The packaging is terrific.  A nice box houses ten individual cases, black instead of the traditional blue.  The cover art is the classic cover art.  The box has some really good and atmospheric painted art.

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Every disc includes special features related to the individual film.  These are made with care and the producers  manage to get a lot of the original teams to return and discuss their experiences on the film.  If you love to dive into special features (as I do), this is a very rich set.  The set includes a bonus disc with new special features (mostly relating to Halloween’s 3-5).

Some of the special features were on previous releases (Considering Anchor Bay has released a 20th Anniversary Set, 25th Anniversary Set and 35th Anniversary set, there was a lot to use).  Considering the Halloween:H20 DVD years ago claimed to have special features that  were not actually on the disc, it is nice to finally get to see interviews and behind the scenes stuff that was promised.  In the end, I think the only thing missing from the deluxe set was the Halloween 25 Years of Terror DVD set.  And they include some of the special features from that.  Keep in mind, the non-deluxe version of the set does not have the Halloween II Television Version or the Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6.

The picture quality is great, keeping some of the grain, but the blu-ray transfers are never muddy, allowing us to never miss some of those great out of the shadow reveals.  This is how a box set should be.  I truly wish the Shout Factory had been in on the Friday the 13th and Chucky box sets…because we would more than likely have gotten a pretty sweet deal out of it.  The Shout Factory has set a standard here.  This is not that surprising, they have spent years making themselves stand out as kind of the Criterion Collection for pop culture.

The Night He Came Home (With Reinforcements) Redux (Halloween 6 Curse of Michael Myers: Producer’s Cut,2014)

halloween_6_producer_cut_Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers was terrible.  It was Plodding, confusing and a genuine mess.  I went back and revisited it and even realized I had filled in the blanks.  The cult that oversees Michael is barely seen.  Oh, we meet some of the characters, but it is unclear why or how they know stuff.  Instead, I was filling in my memory with stuff I had heard about the ideas behind the film.

After almost two decades, we have finally gotten a legit copy of the often bootlegged Producer’s Cut.  This is the film the producers wanted to release.  And you know, had the succeeded?  Part 6 might have had a better reputation.

Oh, yeah, there is still creepy stuff like Jamie being impregnated by her uncle Michael Myers.  But other things are more explicit, like the cult that has overseen Michael.  It makes the talk of the voice that called to Michael to kill his family make a bit more sense.  And the ending is far better.

In a lot of ways, this is a very different film.  Far superior to the theatrical release.  Of course, it still falls short of being a great film.  Frankly, I still do not find the “Michael is controlled by a Cult” storyline particularly compelling.  And considering the seventh film ignored this plot point entirely… I am not alone in such a feeling.

But it is a lot of fun seeing the new footage of Donald Pleasence.  The ending was chopped short, with Sam Loomis bidding farewell to Tommy, Kara and her little brother.  We just see Michael’s mask on the floor and a distance scream from Loomis suggesting Michael killed him offscreen.  In the version, Loomis walks back into the hospital they had the showdown with Michael in and sees Michael still standing…joined by Dr. Wynn (Mitchell Ryan)… Sam Loomis is not killed in the producer’s cut…but rather faces a cruel fate worse than death.  It is actually pretty inspired and ties back to the original in a ironic way.  If you have  not seen it and are a fan of the franchise, I recommend this one.  The blu-ray also includes some great featurettes exploring the history of this film.

The Night He Came Home (With Reinforcements) (Halloween 6: the Curse of Michael Myers, 1996)

Halloween-Curse-of-Michael-MyersI think it would have been cooler if it had been Halloween:the Musical!!! Seriously, whose heart would be untouched at the sight of Michael Myers dancing across the stage, knife in hand? But alas, that was not to be. The biggest surprise for me in re-watching number six recently? Paul Rudd. Or as the movie says: Introducing Paul STEPHEN Rudd. But yeah. It’s this Paul Rudd. I’ve been a fan of Rudd’s for years, but I somehow forgot he was in this…uh…poor showing.

He plays a grown up Tommy Doyle (the kid Jamie Lee was babysitting in the original). The sixth film tries to ties all the films together. Except three. So follow along for spoilers.

This movie picks up some vague and indiscriminate time after # 5. Some girl is giving birth, surrounded by a bunch of people in robes. Shortly after she is helped by one of the cult members (you got that the people in robes were a cult-right???) to get away. after her escape with her baby, the woman who helped her escape hears a noise and gets scare. She backs away…right into Michael Myers who kills her.

Yes, Michael is part of a cult in this film. Not really a member, more a product of their evil deeds. In every generation there is one and all that jazz.  And so we discover that the girl who gave birth is Jamie-Michael’s Niece from 4 & 5. She is trying to save her newborn kid from Michael. And for reasons…that make no sense?  Said baby is Michael Myers child.  Yes.  Apparently he impregnated his young niece.  Ew.  The film quickly introduces Rudd as Tommy Doyle (who ends up being a somewhat creepy version of his nice guy persona) and the return of Dr. Sam Loomis (Again played by Donald Pleasence-who passed on shortly after the film finished). Another old character is introduced…that of Dr. Wynn, who was last seen in the first Halloween.

This is how it all gets messy. They are trying to tie up loose plot lines from a series that had been off the market for about six years. And some of these questions they try and answer are intriguing. But back to the plot. Michael succeeds in killing his niece, but only she manages to hide the baby and call a radio show talking about Michael Myers. Thank God Tommy Doyle is obsessive and records the show, because he manages to figure out where the baby is hidden.

In the meantime the audience also meets another young woman with a kid. She is part of the Strode family, which apparently all deal in Real Estate, just like Laurie’s dad in the original. And of course, it’s revealed that they all live in Michael’s old house, because in 20 odd years they could not sell the home.  None of the Strode family is aware of this.  They have no clue they are living in Michael Myer’s childhood home.  A girl springs it on one of the Strode family members…and I have to ask… HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW YOU LIVE IN THE MOST FAMOUS HOUSE IN YOUR TOWN’S ENTIRE HISTORY?!

None of the characters draw you in, so each death lacks fear or suspense. n top of that, the film is rather confusing. The cult’s motives seem foggy and there is some hokey stuff suggesting that Michael was a generational thing passed through the centuries. I don’t know, it was a real mess.

Mind you, the producers seem to agree. Apparently, they had meant for something a little tighter for the continuity of the series. It was going to be revealed that the shadowy guy from # 5 who set Michael free was Dr. Wynn. It was supposed reveal that Dr. Wynn had trained Michael the years he was growing up. Afterall, Wynn is a member of an evil cult that…well, has something to do with Michael Myers.

So, in the sixth movie, they seem to have gone down a path that is unalterable. Unchangeable. Myers is not the boogey man. He’s the servant to a cult. Sounds like they are stuck now….right? Why look…a seventh film came along three years later…surely it addressed these things….right?

The Night He Came Home (Yet Again) (Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, 1989)

Halloween-5-posterSo, in Halloween 4, the franchise returned to Michael Myers.  And it was a somewhat decent return.  And apparently did well enough that Halloween 5 was trotted out before the masses a short year later.

The surviving cast from the previous film are back to run an obstacle course of Michael related terrors.  Spoilers are on their way…

As with the last movie, the film doesn’t resurrect Michael.  Instead it shows us that he never actually died at the end of the previous film.  When Myers was shot up and fell down a hole he crawled off right before they dropped explosives down after him.  I supposed this is why no one thought it was important to go down and get Myer’s body.  Myers is found by an old bum before going comatose.  So the old bum keeps Michael alive (never removing his mask, apparently).

The film jumps forward a year to re-introduce us to little Jamie (Danielle Harris), Michael’s niece from the previous film.  Remember how she had killed her step mother with a scissors?  Apparently that was all just a tragic dream.  The events of the previous year were so traumatic that Jamie no longer speaks and is being kept in a children’s hospital.

Her step sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) visits with a friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan) who was not in the previous  film, but apparently was close to Jamie for quite some time.  Apparently, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shows up from time to time, being creepy and intense.  He does not believe Myers is dead.  Afterall, he’s been in, like, three sequels now.  He knows better.  And so does Jamie.  See, now she has a psychic connection to Michael.  Poor kid.

So, of course, as Halloween nears, Michael Myers suddenly wakes up from his hibernation  and kills the man who nursed him to health from all those bullet wounds.  Gee, Michael has bad manners.  But then, Michael has work to do, such as killing off survivors from the previous film.   So, I guess you can’t blame him to just saying thanks to the old guy.

And yes, by survivors we primarily mean Rachel.  DUH.  Loomis and Jamie can’t die yet.  Michael cuts through a ton of towns people after killing Rachel and managing to stay one step ahead of the police (The sheriff dealt with Michael in the previous film…so he is not a dummy who ignores the reckless teens and crazy doctors).  At some point, we meet a guy in a pair of steel tipped boots and a trench coat (that’s all we really see of him).  He doesn’t say anything, he just steps off a bus and we don’t ever see him for the rest of the film.

Loomis decides to use Jamie as bait and brings her to Michael’s old house (which, for having never been owned by new residents since the first movie?  Looks like a completely different house).  He sets a trap for Michael.  Michael, of course is not so easily duped and gets past Loomis.  But Loomis manages to lure Michael back out and drop a big metal net on him.  Then Loomis appears to have a heart attack and dies.

Michael is taken into custody.  As he sits alone in his cell there is the sound of gunfire and…OH YEAAAAAAH…it’s the guy who stepped off the bus, here to break Michael out of Jail.  HOLY CRAP!  Did not see that coming!  WHAT’S NEXT?! The credits?  Are you kidding me?

Now, it’s one thing to end on a cliffhanger when your next film comes out the following year-like say, the Lord of the Rings Films.   But Halloween 6 didn’t get released until 1995.  That’s a long time to make your fans wait for resolution.  Okay, they probably did not intend for that long of a wait.  But seriously, the ending is totally out of left field, especially for a slasher film.

This was a definite decline.  Jamie is a more annoying character as a mute than as a screaming or crying child.  Loomis is now obsessed with Michael in a really creepy fashion.  Yeah, in the fourth one he was intense, but I never really saw Loomis as the time to put a child at risk.  I did feel there was one really strong moment in the film.  Myers has Jamie cornered in the attic and she asks him to take off his mask.  And he does.  It is bizarrely touching as the audience does not get a look at Michael, but his niece sees her uncle’s face for the first time ever.   There is also a creepy moment where Michael is wearing a different mask (one that belonged to a guy he’s killed-Tina’s boyfriend) and driving a car with Tina believing it’s her boyfriend (this seems to happen a lot, women thinking Michael is their boyfriend).  It’s one of the few really tense moments of the entire film.

On the other hand?  It’s still better than Halloween 3.

The Night He Came Home (Again) (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, 1988)

halloween-4-returnI doubt most people cared, outside of the producers…but the failure of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (a movie without a single witch) certainly killed interest in another Halloween film. It certainly killed the plan to make each film a separate entity.

In 1987 or so, the producers decided it was safe or a good idea or something to revive Halloween. And they apparently felt that # 3 was far enough away that they could try it again. But this time, they returned to the well that started it all.  They got the future director of Free Willy 2, Dwight H. Little, to direct.

Jason had been brought back from the dead already, and Freddy was enjoying success. And yet, the producers decided not to bring Michael Myers back from the dead. Spa-lars follow.

Instead of returning Michael from the dead, they simply had him in a coma in the ten years since the end of Halloween 2(which, although it was released in 1981, took place in 1978). They were not likely to get Jamie Lee Curtis back, as she had become a household name, and in the 80’s, horror was something you did at the start of your career and then disavowed later. But since Halloween 2 had created the importance of family ties for Michael, they felt they had to have a relative. So the writers and producers came up with Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie and killed Laurie off in a car crash.

Like her mother, Jamie was growing up with an adoptive family, none of whom seemed aware of the dark family member from her past. They did get Donald Pleasence back as Dr. Loomis. This gave the film some legitimacy. Sure, the cynical part of me presumes Pleasence was collecting a check. But honestly, he seemed to genuinely want to be a part of the series. And he certainly tried. Loomis came off creepier and more devoted than ever.

When Loomis learns Michael has awakened from his ten year coma, he knows what this means and heads for Haddonfield. He ends up walking most of the way, as he catches up to Michael at a gas station. Michael blows it up and leaves Loomis stranded.

Michael gets to town and starts stalking his niece as she gets ready for the Halloween festivities. She keeps seeing the boogey man, but no one really believes her until it is to late. Loomis gets to town and convinces the Sheriff that Myers is back. The town goes on high alert (people were skittish, as the power has gone out) and a posse forms to hunt Michael down.

They end up chasing him to a school, and then the posse take Jamie and her older adopted sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) with them to keep the girls safe from Michael. But if it were that easy, well, it would not be a Halloween movie, silly duck. No, Michael manages to kill every member of the posse. Rachel takes over the truck and crashes it, launching Michael a few hundred feet. The police arrive just in time. as Michael lumbers closer The cops unload a hail of bullets into him and he falls down an abandoned mine shaft to his death (who am I kiddin’?).

Probably one of the strongest moments of the film is at the end, when the camera gives us a “killer’s eye view”-reminiscent of the original Halloween in which we see a person getting stabbed, everyone runs over to the stairs when they hear the scream, and Donald Pleasence just starts screaming “NO! NO! NO!” over and over, finally the camera pans to the top of the stairs where Jamie stands, a blank look on her face and a bloody pair of scissors in her hand. It evokes this idea that Michael lives on, that Loomis cannot beat the evil that resides in Myers. It’s particularly effective. There are also some really nice visual uses of shadow and reveals of Michael that cause genuine jump moments.

Director Dwight H. Little shows a lot of promise, and this was his fourth feature. He has gone on to direct a lot of action/suspense based television. The dialog is a bit stiff, but the characters over come it for the most part. The character of Rachel is especially pleasing, because she is confident and strong. It’s interesting that the Halloween films seemed devoted to a small town look and aesthetic. The prettiest girl in town doesn’t look like a California blond pin-up. While attractive, Rachel seems real, both in personality and appearance.

(Still) The Night He Came Home (Halloween II,1981)

halloween_2Halloween 2 is guilty of kicking off a lot of horror sequel trends. You remember that kid Randy from the Scream movies? The one who explained all the rules of the slasher genre? Halloween 2 pretty much nailed every one of the rules of a sequel that Randy talks about in Scream 2.

Halloween 2 does not suck. On the other hand, it is not quite as good as the first film. Carpenter and Hill are producers and helped with the script, but the film was directed by first time film director Rick Rosenthal (who has gone on to direct a lot of television, especially in the horror/fantasy genre such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville) who returned to the last film before Rob Zombie’s reboot. So, as with many sequels, this was someone cutting their teeth.

Spoilers are cutting up next.  Ouch. Sorry about the pun.

The part of this film that works is we have our main cast returning and it continues on the same night as the original film.  This one picks up as Dr. Loomis believes he shot Michael dead, only, of course to look over the edge and see Michael is gone.

The story continues Michael’s unrelenting attack, though it becomes more refined.  People often forget,  it was Halloween 2 that introduced the idea that Michael and Laurie were siblings (It was also the second film that first used the song Mr. Sandman to creepy effect).  Nearly the entire second film takes place in a hospital, with the majority of film’s victims being hospital employees.

As the film starts, Laurie Strode is taken to the local hospital, which is pretty sparcely populated at the time, we see no patients (other than some newborns in the nursery at one point), only a skeletal staff of nurses and ambulance drivers.  Of the two drivers, we have the kind hearted Jimmy Lloyd (played by Last Starfighter Lance Guest) and the sex obsessed, crass Graham (played by Jeffrey Kramer).  Graham is constantly trying to get some alone time with his girlfriend, Nurse Bailey (Pamela Susan Shoop).  Jimmy on the other hand keeps trying to sneak in to talk to Laurie, though head nurse Mrs. Alves (Gloria Gifford) keeps interfering, insisting Jimmy let Laurie rest.

Dr. Loomis is still working with police to try and catch Michael, but that relationship becomes increasingly strained as the sheriff discovers that one of the dead teens is his own daughter.  It is when Marion Chambers (who we saw in the first film) comes to tell Loomis he must leave with her under state orders that they discover a truth that was hidden from even Loomis.  Michael had another sister, little Laurie Strode.  Loomis, being the determined guy he is, will not go down without a fight and demands to be taken to the hospital.

Of course, in the meantime, hospital staff have dropped like flies.  Laurie has been sedated, but she refuses to give up and stumbles through the hospital trying to escape the ever present Michael Myers.  If it sounds familiar, this is because many films have duplicated this cat and mouse since in the slasher and horror genre.  But Halloween 2 pulls it off well, it is one of the film’s strong points.

Loomis arrives at the hospital for a final showdown with Michael.  In one of the less plausible moments, Laurie manages to shoot both Michael’s eyes out with a gun…which only blinds him.   Holding a scalpel, he swings wildly as Laurie and Dr. Loomis turn on the various gas tanks in the room.  Loomis sends Laurie out of the room and then flicks a Bic lighter (okay, maybe it was some generic brand of lighter) blowing himself and Michael up.

This film ups the killings, using various implements found in the hospital (such as needles).  The kills are more gruesome and elaborate, the characters less dimensional (hardly a shock as there are more characters introduced).  It carries through pretty seamlessly from the first.  But it lacks something without Carpenter’s skilled eye for the use of shadows and light to obscure Michael.  So it has a different feel.

They do try and advance the story, rather than re-hash it (which is where we get the family connection exploited both well and poorly in later films).  It is notable that they killed Michael off believing that they were done with stories about Myers.  I mean, where else could they go?  The idea was that now they could make other movies with the Halloween title, but all new stories and characters.  And then they made Halloween 3.

The (First) Night He Came Home (Halloween, 1977)

halloween_originalThe late 70’s and early 80’s were pretty good to the horror genre. Plenty of long running series were kicked off then. Halloween was the start of a really strong run for John Carpenter as well. He produced some of his finest work between about 1978 and 1987.

Halloween was actually just started as an idea of a psycho stalking babysitters. This is not entirely new, and it played off various urban legends that started in the preceding decades about stalkers and babysitters as their prey. At some point, they came up with the idea of setting it on Halloween, hence the name. Halloween caused a lot of “holiday” themed imitators not long after, such as a little film called Friday the 13th.

By today’s standards, Halloween is remarkably tame. It’s body count is small, it is not overly graphic in it’s deaths and it focuses more on it’s characters than it’s monster. The movie is not about “Michael Myers, Serial Killer.” Oh sure, it’s tag line is “The Night HE Came Home,” but do not be fooled. Instead, it is about young Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis-at that time an unknown to the public) and her efforts to protect herself and the kid she is babysitting.

Spoilers follow…

The story is pretty simple to follow. As a young by, Michael Myers inexplicably murders his sister and is institutionalized. It’s made creepy by the fact that we see Michael coming from a fairly average family and home. There seems to be no obvious trigger. That’s what makes Michael scary. His motives are unknown. Freddy is a sadistic murderer getting revenge on the parents who killed him. Jason is killing careless camp counselors. But Michael? Michael does not seem to have a reason for what he does.

The film’s opening is masterfully creepy, as we see everything from a stalker’s point of view. Carpenter deftly walks through the opening entirely through Michael’s eyes, allowing the viewer to make their own conclusions about who the killer might be. The killer puts on a clown mask, and even then the camera continues to see through Michael’s eyes, now peering through the eye slits of a mask. The camera enters the room of a young attractive woman who clearly recognizes our stalker. It is not until moments later, as we go outside that the camera steps from behind Michaels eyes and his parents get out of their car do we discover that Michael is but a young child.

Carpenter quickly introduced us to Dr. Loomis (played by the ever entertaining Donald Pleasence) who is a passionate and seemingly caring doctor trying to get through to Michael, at least for a time. The films makes a leap of about fifteen years, where we discover Loomis has had a change of heart. He determined Michael is unreachable and simply needs to be locked away forever.

Loomis is on his way to the institution to plead against Michael’s being moved on a dark and stormy night, and is surprised to see patients wandering in the rain. While Loomisleaves the car, a nurse sits patiently. She is startled by the noise of someone on top of the car, the person scares the nurse out of the car and then steals it, leaving the nurse and Loomis behind. Dr. Loomis is no fool and realizes it was Myers.

We are then introduced to Laurie Strode with her family. Clearly, this is a loving family that has strong ties, and Carpenter manages to establish this in less than five minutes at the breakfast table. Laurie is asked by her real estate agent father to drop a key off at the old Myers house for a showing. his sequence sets a lot of information before us. First, Myers is a bit of a local legend. Something has happened to Michael’s parents, and judging from the home, it has been vacant for years. in fact, it has a reputation of the local haunted house, with a young local boy Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) begging Laurie not to go up to the house.

The story snowballs from there as Laurie and her friends notice both an unfamiliar car and stranger showing up near by. Laurie keeps thinking she sees Michael behind trees or in the back yard. In the script Michael is described, quite reasonably as the shape. Michael is not defined at all, other than he appears large. Even his mask, iconic as it is, has no real features to it. It’s lifeless, as is his jumpsuit.

Laurie and her friend Annie (Nancy Loomis) both go to babysit some kids, while another friend, Lynda (P.J. Soles) hooks up with her boyfriend. This all leads to the inevitable series of deaths that culminate in Laurie trying to protect Tommy, Lindsey (Kyle Richards) and herself from the “boogey man”.

All the while Dr. Loomis is running around town with the local sheriff trying to locate and capture Michael. Attracted by screaming kids (Lindsey and Tommy, who Laurie sent out of the house) Loomis runs into the house and saves Laurie, shooting Michael multiple times. Michael falls out of a window and hits the ground below. But when Dr. Loomis looks out the window he sees Michael is gone. It’s a classic ending, and one that now we all recognize as an opening for a sequel (though Carpenter states that this was not the plan, it was simply meant to be a creepy ending-the sequel was a total afterthought).

What makes Halloween work is it’s use of shadows to obscure Myers, and it’s skillful use of POV shots. Many moments are shown from Michael’s perspective, keeping him mysterious, even as we see things through his eyes. Then there are the musical stings. Much like Psycho, the stings hit at the exact right moments. And that creepy theme!

Halloween is a definite classic, and though it’s unfortunate that it paved a way for cheap slashers, it is noteworthy for it’s focus on the characters. The fact is, most of the copycats missed what made Halloween work and created a genre almost unrecognizable as being compatible with Halloween. Modern slashers create such unlikable characters you quickly start to root for the killer. Carpenter never confuses the audience. Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode are our heroes, Michael Myers is the villain. The film is a great example of film making with limited resources as well.

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